Technology is an enabler, not a solution in itself

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), machines today no longer “merely” produce goods, but also produce valuable data that can revolutionize your business. Stuart Bashford, Digital Officer at Bühler, welcomes this revolution. He – and Bühler – view technology as an enabler for positive progress. Implemented right, digital innovations can help reduce waste, energy and downtime, improve quality, and ultimately boost the bottom line.



As Bühler’s Digital Officer, you are responsible for delivering the company’s digitalization strategy at a time where the IoT is truly beginning to shape the future of businesses.


Absolutely. I must say, this is the perfect time to be in this role. The technology is here and it’s commercially viable. This means that we can now really deliver the IoT solutions that we were dreaming about five years ago. Several aspects are coming together: Sensors are low-cost, the cost of transferring data is low, and the cost of storage is low.

At Bühler, we’re investing in the development of digital solutions to enable our customers to reach their goals. Our management and board are fully committed to driving a digitalization strategy that helps our customers reduce energy consumption and waste, and improve efficiency.


What does this mean for you personally?


For someone who loves technology and all things digital, this means the stars have aligned – the technology exists and the company fully stands behind it. It’s a time when we’re not only considering the potential of the future – the future is here and we can actually offer game-changing solutions to our customers. Manufacturing across the value chain has the opportunity to reach new levels of productivity, service, safety, and differentiation and thereby drop operating costs or increase revenue.


Can IoT solutions really make such a big difference? It’s not just media hype?


The value and benefit are real and  they will have a positive influence on a company’s bottom line. Through real-time monitoring and control, even small benefits can accumulate into significant gains over a year. IoT helps our customers become more cost effective and brings value to their business.


Can you share an example?


One example is a recent test we ran where we compared our algorithms to the performance of the best operator at a rice mill. A great deal of expertise is needed to set up a machine so that it performs to expectations. We analyzed what the line operator did to achieve an optimal set-up, put that into an algorithm, and applied it to the ma-chine. The algorithm outperformed the one-time adjustments made by operators by half a percent.

This system’s analysis is in real time, so the machine is always operating at its best – adjusting itself to maintain consistent quality. This half a percent of higher performance translates into significant gains for our customers in terms of recurring revenue year on year. Reducing unplanned downtime, establishing consistent quality, lower-ing waste and energy, and achieving overall equipment effectiveness – all of these maximize productivity and generate revenue for our customers.


What types of solutions are customers asking you about?


Many of our customers talk to us about reducing unplanned downtime, which is money lost. Using our machine-learning algorithms, for example, we can predict where and when failures will occur. This enables customers to schedule maintenance activities around production schedules without interruption. This is just one example of the very real benefits we can offer with our IoT solutions.

Getting the most out of their processes is important to all of our customers and IoT solutions enable us to significantly improve the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) numbers for a given plant. We do this by not only collecting data, but also by analyzing it.

Our data analytics team combine with Bühler’s process experts to help customers extract real value from the collected data. Data analytics translate directly into financial gains according to a recent study by the University of Texas in Austin, USA.


How are we helping our customers to get on board with digitalization?


The digital journey we are all on is certainly complex, and one of the main reasons is the pace at which things are moving. Technology is advancing fast – this means changes are hitting us continually, which is feeding our imaginations and offering us the opportunities to maximize the benefits.

One important challenge we see for our customers is that there can be a temptation to throw technology at the problem and then after implemen-tation try to uncover what benefit or value has been generated.


So digitalization isn’t always the solution?


We keep in mind that technology itself is not a solution, it’s an enabler.  So, while we certainly have many technology/IoT solutions that can be applied to any challenge, we prefer to take a value-centric approach. This means we first want to fully understand the problem and second, we apply the right building blocks from our technology portfolio to solve it.

We speak with our customers and find out what’s important to them – be it product quality, safety, increased efficiency – then we develop solutions with them, with our experts, and with partners.


How do you do this in practice?


We work with our customers, usually in an open exchange environment. Through these workshops, we may find that the solution can be far simpler than originally considered, and again, perhaps digitalization is not the solution. A bene-fit of the digital solutions that Bühler offers is that through their transparency, we can really analyze the process to gain a higher resolution – this enables our customers to gain greater insight into how we can extract maximum benefit.


Cloud storage is available to everybody. And, anyone can hire data scientists to build their own data analytics teams. With this in mind, what does Bühler offer its customers that other providers can’t?


Simply put, our digital offering is strengthened by our experience in measuring quality of the product; we have in-house data scientists who can analyze that data; we have a 150 years of process technology and we have the global physical infrastructure. That’s a combination that digital service providers alone can’t match. Bühler’s digitalization efforts span a huge array of possibilities and potential.


In 2016, Bühler communicated its intention of reducing waste, water, and energy use by 30 percent with digitalization and IoT as drivers. What are some of the key achievements since that announcement?


We’ve had a lot of success stories since then and we are working on many more with our collaborative innovation network that includes start-ups, students, academics, think tanks, universities, and business partners. A great example of collaborative innova-tion is the TotalSense rice analyzer, an IoT product that enables the high-quality analysis of rice (more on page 20). One of our engineers at Bühler Sortex in London, who began as a UNITECH student interning with us, developed the product in a competition aimed at driving digitalization in Bühler. It was voted best digital business solution at Bühler’s Digitalization Fair in May this year. We are a corporate partner of UNITECH, a program that offers internships to high-potential engineering students.

At Networking Days 2017 @ Interpack, we launched several innovations, including Choco-Genius. It’s an “anytime, anywhere” web-based training service to train chocolate line operators.

We also released the Smart Chocolate Factory, a self-optimizing digital service for dosing, mixing, rolling, and conching lines. It’s a “digital factory” that improves the quality and performance of a line. With it, customers achieve a 10 percent reduction in operating costs and a 10 percent increase in performance. AnywarePro is another great example (more on page 16) of IoT at work. Bühler’s IoT platform is designed to take all of the complex analysis data produced by an optical sorter and provide feedback to a customized dashboard to whomever needs it on whatever device. It was introduced for rice mills, but is now being adapted for any food and non-food production lines using an optical sorter.


What are the key concerns around IoT that might be holding some manufacturers back?


Concerns about information and data security, initial investment, complexity, what to do with the information that is gathered, and doubts that the return on investment might not meet expectations. We have the experts, the partners, and the know-how to address all of these concerns. Again, it all comes down to meeting our customers, determining what their needs are, and finding the solutions that best suit them.


You mentioned data security. How has Bühler addressed this issue?


We recognize the concerns our customers may have and take data security very seriously. It is a basic requirement for us, not only in IoT but in all our activities. We ensure that potential security issues at the device end, the cloud end, and the network traffic between the two is mitigated. It was a deci-sive criterion for choosing Microsoft as a preferred innovation partner.

We authenticate using digital certificates between the device end and the cloud end, in addition all data is encrypted at source and while it is stored on the cloud. We also use a secure gateway to transfer data either through a wired or wireless connection – this is a secure but “firewall friendly” process. Data transmission is one way – this means that all the data transmissions are instigated from the device end which enhances security by minimizing the risk of penetration attacks.


What other reassurances can you offer?


We also provide assistance to our customers through e-learning modules to raise awareness of best security practice on-site – the largest security risk is still the activities which happen on-site – for example connecting a USB device that has been used at home, or on other less secure networks and unwittingly transferring a virus. The Microsoft datacenters where we store our data complies with many of the worldwide industry security standards, for example ISO 27001 for physical security and availability, and it is continuously managed, monitored, and administered by the resources of Microsoft.


What final words of advice do you have for our customers?


Come and talk with us. We have a number of digital building blocks for customers big and small. We have a range of solutions and will work with you to find the best fit. I think it’s also important to recognize and accept change that is here – and more is on the way, but also to see that with change come opportunities. This is an exciting time where the first-mover advantage can be quite significant.


Stuart Bashford

As Digital Officer at Bühler, Stuart Bashford is responsible for setting and delivering the company’s digitalization strategy. He began his career at Bühler in 2013 in London, as Head of Software and Hardware Development. Prior to joining Bühler, he worked at a high-tech start-up company for ten years designing lasers for sales into the solar panel manufacture business and also in the semiconductor industry for applied materials. He is MBA qualified and has a background in hardware and software design.

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